News & Politics

One of the Largest Gatherings of Vintage Warplanes Since World War II Is Coming to DC

The sky parade is being called a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

A Curtiss SB2C-5 Helldiver, one of the planes scheduled to appear in the flyover. This one's in the Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center, where some of the flyover's planes will be displayed on May 9. Image by Dane Penland, Smithsonian Institution.

On May 8, dozens of warbirds will buzz above the Capitol, marking 70 years since the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II. The vintage planes, which Air & Space Magazine editor Linda Shiner calls “the greatest aircraft in history,” will assemble in 15 different formations to commemorate battles like Pearl Harbor and D-Day. The flyover will be one of the largest gatherings of vintage warplanes since the end of World War II and one of the first major Capitol flyovers in decades. “Anyone who’s not in the vicinity of Washington, DC is going to miss out on a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Peter Jakab, the Air and Space Museum’s chief curator.

The organizers of the Arsenal of Democracy: World War II Victory Capitol Flyover, joined by Shiner and veteran pilots who served in the war, gave details on the event this morning at the National Air and Space Museum. “We aren’t able to parade tanks down Independence Avenue or put ships in the Tidal Basin, but we can use to aircraft to represent how this nation came together during World War II,” said Jack Dailey, the museum’s director.

The “sky parade” is put on by a coalition that includes the General Aviation Manufacturers Association and the Commemorative Air Force, a vintage-airplane preservation group that’ll be providing about one-third of the planes. Former President George H. W. Bush and congressmen Bob Dole and John Dingell are serving as honorary co-chairs for the event. Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chair of the aviation caucus and founder of an annual aviation show called the Wingnuts Flying Circus, will pilot a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber that will head a “missing man” formation to close the ceremony. The group expects between 30 and 60 planes to fly, including a B-29 Superfortress—the plane that dropped the nuclear bomb 70 years ago this August.

Here’s the itinerary: After a wreath-laying ceremony at the National World War II Memorial from 10:30 to 11:45 that Friday morning, the first planes will appear over the National Mall at 12:10 PM, with formations following for the next 40 minutes. The planes will fly from Virginia airports in Manassas and Culpepper, following the Potomac before heading east over the Lincoln Memorial and National Mall, then south along the Washington Channel. National Airport will be closed to flights from 12 to 1 PM to accommodate the planes, which had to receive special approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly just 1,000 feet over Independence Avenue and “the most sensitive airspace in the world,” as organizer John Cudahy put it.

The planes will be visible throughout DC, though the flyover is designed to be seen from the Mall. Air & Space Magazine has produced “spotter cards,” available in their May issue and on their website, to help people identify the aircraft.

On May 9, the museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly will have around 20 of the planes on display and will celebrate with performances from the Air Force’s Airmen of Note jazz band. For kids, there will be “nose art” decorating—the paintings that decorated the tip of war planes back in the day. Presumably, pinups like these won’t be part of the plan.

Harrison Smith

Harrison Smith (@harrisondsmith on Twitter) has contributed to the Washington Post and Chicago magazine. He can be reached at [email protected].